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Jaws Scared the Bleep Out of Me: Would Movies Do the Same to My Sweet Pea? 

shark coming for Bart

Back in 1978, when I was just four years old,  my mother—no doubt in an admirable attempt to keep me on the crest of the cultural zeitgeist—decided to take me to see one of the year’s highest grossing film: Jaws 2.

It didn’t go well.

You may recall the theatrical release poster, featuring a bikini-clad water skier about to be consumed by a great white shark of megalodon proportions. I didn’t even make it through the DA-dum-DA-dum-DA-dum of the opening credits before shrieking and crying so dramatically that I had to be carried out of the theater.

It was a formative event—and not in a good way. Today I have an unreasonable, marrow-deep fear of the ocean. Ankle-deep is just fine, thank you very much.

This traumatic, cinema-induced baggage became especially heavy when I took Little E to her first movie. Admittedly Pixar’s Inside/Out didn’t carry quite the risk for scarification as a film about a man-eating shark, but this was still uncertain territory. Little E had already shown to be sensitive to loud noises, and when the lights went down, who knew how she would react?

On the other hand, she once ran screaming from an ant…only to return and eat the poor little guy. Obviously, she had the potential for growth within a new experience.

Like most parents, we’re sensitive to the amount of screen time we give our kid, but this was different. This was an event, a notch in the old parenting belt that would kickstart a lifetime of cinema-going. And, perhaps most importantly, it was in the withering grasp of a brutal Portland heat wave that turned any outdoors activity into a scalding pool of misery. On this day, sitting in an air-conditioned theater was the only option.

I’m quite sure that as we bought our tickets and wove our way down to our seats, she had no idea what she was in for; I had been telling her that movies were like a “giant TV.” When the lights went down, she latched tightly onto my hand. She cowered just a bit. But as the surround sound kicked in and the movie began to play in a steady stream of sights and sounds and colors, she loosened up. Halfway through, she was planted confidently in her own chair wolfing down popcorn just like her dad.

Outside of a few “shhhhhhs” and “sit stills”(which I’m used to repeating 10,000 times a day, more or less) our first trip to the movies went off without a hitch. She left the theater beaming, raving in rambling sentences about the weird, wonderful things she’d seen. By the next week, with the weather taking another hot turn, we dove into the new Minions movie.

Once again, two tiny thumbs up.

The only lingering damage appears to be a new propensity for nonsensical babbling and a need to show off her backside for comedic effect.

Far better, I figure, than a grown man still too scared to dip a toe in the ocean.

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